How social is driving Vail Resorts to new heights
Beaver Creek Resort
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How social is driving Vail Resorts to new heights

Jessica Twentyman – April 2012
Vacation group pioneers use of RFID-enabled social platform to enhance guest experience.

At premium vacation destination operator Vail Resorts, CIO Robert Urwiler is on a mission to “turn guests into brand advocates… and their family and friends into guests.” Right now, his highest hopes for achieving that goal are pinned on EpicMix, an application that grew out of regular and lengthy conversations that Urwiler has had with the $1.2 billion company’s CMO Kirsten Lynch and CEO Robert Katz.

Launched in late 2010, EpicMix may be the world’s first RFID-enabled social platform, according to Urwiler. It uses data collected from the RFID tags embedded in guests’ season
passes and the daily tickets used at resorts that include Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone in Colorado, and the Heavenly and North Star resorts on the California-Nevada border. This data is read by scanners situated at turnstiles, on ski lifts and on the runs themselves and because the chips use ultra-high frequency technology, they can transmit their signals over a distance of around 10 meters.

“Social media is a way to create competitive differentiation.”

The EpicMix application then feeds this data back to individual users through their personalized online accounts, giving them not only information on how they’ve performed on a particular day of skiing or snowboarding, but also the opportunity to share that information with friends and family using Facebook and Twitter.

In its first season (2010-11), over 100,000 Vail Resorts visitors used EpicMix, posting on Facebook over 260,000 times and generating some 35 million social impressions, he says. And from the 2012 season, professional photographers have been operating across Vail Resorts, armed with RFID scanners that allow them to identify individual guests and send photographs of them with their friends and family to their EpicMix accounts. The guests can then share low-resolution versions of these images for free on Facebook or Twitter, or purchase a high-res downloadable JPEG of a favorite shot for $20.

“Success isn’t what we say about our brand – it’s what our guests say.”

“Our mission as a company is to provide the ‘experience of a lifetime.’ We aim to do that for every guest and it’s an effort that involves not just IT and marketing, but the whole company,” says Urwiler.

“Social media is incredibly important to the Vail Resorts brand. It’s a way to create competitive differentiation for Vail and also provide an enhanced guest experience. As we’ve seen all over the world, and particularly in hospitality and travel businesses, success as a company is becoming less about what we say about our brand — and more about what our guests say about our brand to each other.”
First published April 2012
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